This article appeared in the Spring 2017 issue of The Classroom Teacher.

A hearing was held March 29 in Travis County District Court in the case of TCTA v. Morath. TCTA filed a lawsuit in April 2016 against Education Commissioner Mike Morath over the appraisal rule that requires locally adopted appraisal systems to use the definition of “performance of teachers’ students” used in the appraisal system recommended by the commissioner, which is T-TESS.

School districts have the option of using the appraisal system recommended by the commissioner or appraisal systems developed by local site-based committees and adopted by local school boards. State law requires the commissioner-recommended system to include “the performance of teachers’ students.” The statute allowing districts to use locally developed appraisals requires them to include this same element. 

The commissioner asserts that this gives him the legal authority to define “the performance of teachers’ students” even in locally adopted appraisal systems, but TCTA argues that the commissioner’s authority does not extend to dictating terms for locally developed appraisal systems.

TCTA urged TEA to eliminate the student growth component from its appraisal rules, but TEA left the provision in its final rules, which were released April 13, 2016, and went into effect July 1. In the final rules, T-TESS defines “the performance of teachers’ students” as growth in student performance at the individual teacher level, using one or more of the following student growth measures:

    A) student learning objectives,

    B) district pre- and post-tests,

    C) student portfolios, and/or 

    D) value-added data based on student state
        assessment results. 

By restricting locally developed appraisal systems to this definition, the rule challenged by TCTA requires districts using their own local appraisal systems to include student performance in appraisals at the individual teacher level, rather than including student performance at a group or campus level as was done in PDAS, the previous commissioner-recommended appraisal system. It also requires districts using locally adopted teacher appraisal systems to use one or more of the four listed measures when including student performance at the individual teacher level.

The presiding judge, Lora Livingston, did not rule on the case during the March hearing. Instead, she directed the other teacher associations that have filed challenges to the TEA rules to indicate whether their cases involve issues other than the one raised by TCTA and to either agree to be bound by her decision in our case or to file their own motions on the issue raised by TCTA. If they file such motions, the court will hear them at the end of May. TCTA General Counsel Lonnie Hollingsworth Jr. wrote a letter to the judge requesting that the matter be resolved as early as possible, since the rule restricting the discretion of school districts over locally adopted appraisals is scheduled to go into effect in the 2017-18 school year.

UPDATE: TCTA reached a settlement agreement with the commissioner on May 3, 2017. Click here for more information.